Internment Of Ukrainian-Canadians

Canada, History, Immigration, Interesting Stuff, Politics, War

A family of Ukrainian immigrants in Quebec City 1897
Ukrainian immigrants in Quebec City – 1897

With the outbreak of World War I, the War Measures Act (1914) was implemented as a result of an Order In Council by the Canadian Government. This resulted in the internment of 8,579 “enemy aliens” of which over 5,000 were Ukrainians who had emigrated to Canada from territories under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It also meant an additional 80,000 individuals (of which the vast majority were Ukrainians) were obliged to register as “enemy aliens” and then required to report to local authorities on a regular basis.

These internees were used to develop Canadian infrastructure as “forced-labourers“. They were used to develop Banff National Park, the logging industry in Northern Ontario & Quebec, the steel mills in Ontario & Nova Scotia, and in the mines in British Columbia, Ontario & Nova Scotia. This infrastructure development program benefited Canadian corporations to such a degree that the internment was carried on for two years after the end of World War I.

To this date it has not been determined what was the driving force for the Internment. Was it due to wartime xenophobia and war fever, or the Economic benefits of a forced-labour system, or bigoted-driven emotions against Canada’s first non-Official language speaking immigrants? The truth is that it was probably due to mixture of these reasons. Unfortunately, the War Measures Act formed the basis for future government incursions on the Civil liberties of Citizens and immigrants to Canada.

This act was used as the basis of the internment of the Japanese Canadians in 1941 and the French-Canadians (or Quebecois) in 1970. This act was always implemented via an Order in Council, rather than through approval via the democratically elected parliament. This Act was first implemented during World War I where Ukrainian Canadians were primarily and unjustly made it’s first victims.

The internment issue exposed many of the anti-immigrant feelings of the general population of the day. Reading through some of the references, it is shocking that the fundamental comments made 80 years ago are also prevalent in today’s society. Perhaps by gaining an understanding of past historical examples of intolerance and abuses, it can help prevent such an atrocious actions being taken in the future by the Government of Canada.

Even more disturbing, since the 9/11 event in the United States there has been actions in the United States against the Muslim community that mirror the actions against the Ukrainians in World War I. In essence Guantanamo Bay has become the new Internment Operation of the day. Similar echoes exist in Canada. Recent incursions on the civil liberties of some members of the Muslim community in Canada have led to a Government Commission to get to the truth of why their civil liberties were overlooked. The lessons of the past have definitely not been learned at all.

It was obvious to many Ukrainian Canadians that this was a part of Canadian history that the Government did not wish the general public to learn about. This belief was strengthened by the government’s destruction of a large percentage of the government documents about Canada’s First National Internment Operations in the 1950’s. >>more>


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